Griffin Clark left some huge shoes to fill for Berryhill Post 165’s baseball team. And Zack Parker is doing a pretty darn good job of filling them.
Only a year ago, Parker was a promising young player coming off of his first season on Dow High’s junior varsity team. Now, following an excellent inaugural varsity campaign for the Chargers, he has locked down the demanding position of shortstop for Berryhill – surprising himself in the process.
“I would definitely say I’ve surprised myself,” Parker admitted of taking over the shortstop position from Clark, who was a key player in Post 165’s run to the American Legion Baseball World Series last summer but who was too old to play for Berryhill this season. “I expected myself to do good, because I hold myself to a high standard, but I’ve succeeded more than I thought I would.
“ … My defense really helped with (securing a starting spot for Berryhill),” Parker added. “In my first game with Berryhill, I was at shortstop, and I made a few great plays, which really helped.”
Parker may have surprised himself but not Berryhill assistant coach Deron Gross, who said that he and manager Dan Cronkright saw Parker’s potential immediately during workouts last fall.
“We could tell he was athletic and very fast. And then we took some infield, and we could tell he had really good hands and a quick release,” Gross noted. “And in the batting cage, he had quick hands and made good contact. You could tell right away that he’s a nice player.”
Dow baseball coach Rich Juday noticed some of the same things during the Chargers’ tryouts this past spring.
“The first thing you see is his speed. His foot speed is tremendous, and he can use that on the basepaths, and it gives him a lot of range in the middle infield,” Juday said. “That’s why I made him a shortstop – because his range is so outstanding.
“And his contact ratio (at the plate) is excellent,” Juday added. “For every four swings, he may miss only once, and that showed in his strikeouts. To go through a whole season with only seven strikeouts is pretty outstanding.”
Indeed, Parker fanned only seven times in 108 at-bats for the Chargers this past spring, hitting .463 with a team-high 50 hits, 29 runs batted in, and 15 stolen bases in earning Daily News Dream Team honors.
Parker noted that it took him a little while to adjust to the varsity level, but once he did, he was a huge difference-maker for Dow.
“It takes every ballplayer a little time to adjust to varsity play. … I brought him up as a sophomore last year (near the end of the season), and he got a little feel for it, but getting on the field is totally different,” Juday said. “It took him a little time to adjust this year, but he got acclimated to it a lot quicker than most kids do. He was on base for us all the time.”
Parker said his confidence grew by leaps and bounds as his first varsity season progressed.
“I remember my first at-bat (on varsity). I was completely blown away and definitely uncomfortable,” he admitted. “A few games later, I began settling in, and I felt more at home. It was definitely a matter of finding my comfort level. Going from JV to varsity is a huge difference, but just getting more comfortable all around is all it took.
“ … I would say I did about as well as I could, coming in knowing I had big shoes to fill with Logan McCoy graduating,” Parker added. “He left big shoes to fill in the field and at the plate, and I feel like I did my best to fill them.”
And now, Parker is doing the same thing for Berryhill, doing his best to pick up where Clark left off.
“I think he’s been excellent. We’re very happy to have him on the team,” said Gross. “He’s a smart kid. He has a high baseball IQ, and he’s versatile. He can play shortstop or second base or all three positions in the outfield.
“He’s fast on the basepaths and also a smart baserunner,” Gross added. “And he makes good contact, doesn’t strike out much, and has quick hands. I like him a lot.”
According to Juday, Parker has not only a ton of natural athleticism but also a very good feel for sports in general and baseball in particular.
“He’s smooth. He has a rhythm, and that shows up on the football field, as well. I was his position coach in football, and you could see that rhythm in his play as a receiver,” Juday said. “On the baseball field, he’s always moving and always ready when the pitch is made. He can anticipate.
“Playing up the middle, he can see the sign from the catcher, and when he has the opportunity to see where the pitch is going, he anticipates where the ball will be hit and gets himself in the right spot most of the time,” Juday added. “ … He has very good instincts for the game, and he has natural talent. That’s why he’s so successful at the level he’s at.
“Some have instincts that help them overcome lack of skill, and some are very skilled but lack instincts,” he continued. “Zack’s got both.”
Both Juday and Gross said that, in addition to being a great player, Parker is a fun kid to coach.
“He listens to what you have to say, and he will try anything,” Juday noted. “One thing I really like about Zack is that you don’t have to tweak too much, but if there are things you want him to improve on, he’ll be receptive to trying something new and giving it a shot.”
For his part, Gross said Parker is a “really nice” kid to have in the dugout.
“I like his personality. He’s got a quick wit, and he’s real friendly,” said Gross. “He’s an excellent teammate, and it’s very nice to have him on the team.”
In comparing summer ball to high school ball, Parker said that playing for Berryhill has been a welcome challenge – and also a fun one.
“I would say that (American) Legion ball is more consistently good (than high school ball). Whereas, in high school, you might see a pitcher who’s pretty dominant once in a while, in Legion ball you’re pretty much guaranteed every weekend to see at least one or two dominant guys,” he said, adding that he has enjoyed the camaraderie with his Berryhill teammates, including those from crosstown rival Midland High.
“It’s a lot of fun. Every weekend, when we travel, we find something fun to do, like golfing in Petoskey this past weekend,” he said. “It’s a great group of guys, and we get along well. … Once in a while, we (Dow and Midland players) will go back and forth about who’s better, but it’s all friendly banter.”
Parker added that he is excited about the start of the American Legion postseason, which begins this weekend with Berryhill hosting the Zone 4 tournament at Northwood, then continues with the state tournament in Mount Pleasant next weekend, and then returns to Northwood for the Great Lakes Regional from Aug. 3-7.
“I think we have the potential to make another run like last year,” he said, noting that Post 165’s offense could be the key. “Sometimes, our bats take a little bit to come along, and we can be sluggish at the plate at times. Our pitching has been there all season, so if our bats are there, we could be tough.”